Troll Alert!

“Either you think, or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilize and sterilize you.”

This quotation from Scott Fitzgerald’s novel Tender Is The Night is really resonating with me at the moment. In recent posts I’ve explored ideas about how improvisation and originality could counter a spreading culture of fixed thinking and received opinion. Cyberspace has become a virtual battlefield where a multitude of rival ideologies compete for our attention.

That some may be indisciplined and uncivilized doesn’t really lessen the thrust of Fitzgerald’s maxim. It may even speak louder in our internet era.

As social animals we naturally internalise cultural conflict but I suspect our solitary online existence makes it harder for us to process so much disparate input. Simply put: these days, when do we get to talk stuff over? Evolution has made us sophisticated interpreters of face-to-face interactions but are we quite so clever when it comes to mysterious coded messages left by individuals and/or groups whose facial expressions or body language – and therefore true motivations – we can’t read?

Nothing new, you might say, it’s a problem that’s been around at least as long as printing presses. But the provenance of books, newspapers and magazines is pretty easy to uncover. Checks and balances around conventional publishing have grown up over a period of almost 700 years. By comparison, the internet is a mere whippersnapper run wild who can only communicate through mysterious signs and signals in a strange language all its own.

Mowgli, maybe? But I’m reminded of another Rudyard Kipling tale, from his Just So Stories, where a little girl writes a picture message to her mum which is hilariously misinterpreted – much to the discomfort of the foreign gentleman who has kindly offered to deliver it. Highly recommended, if you’ve never read it – just click on How The First Letter Was Written.

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And while I’m on the subject of stories for children, I think that the following short video offers a tidy little reminder of online etiquette rules. Not that you need reminding, of course … being a fine, upstanding and wholly honourable member of the blogging community! But you may find it handy when crossing the little wooden bridge over the stream to the lush green pastures beyond – trip trap! – only to hear a deep, gruff, grumbly voice beneath you …


You Couldn’t Make It Up … Or Could You?

I enjoy responding to the WordPress Daily Prompts because they force me to think on my feet. I have to improvise.

The idea of conjuring up something out of nothing excites me. I like it when set routines  break apart in unexpected ways – when comedy magician Tommy Cooper’s tricks go wrong or when Pete and Dud sketches dissolve in fits of giggles. I’m not a big fan of quick-fire punchline humour, unless it’s done really well – the late Ken Dodd was a master – usually preferring longer ‘observational’ material with a more off-the-cuff feel. Sure, this can be almost as scripted as one-liner comedy but it has often been worked up through improvisation –  UK comic Stewart Lee and the late US comic Bill Hicks being excellent examples. Both create a frisson of danger by bouncing off audiences.

I’m drawn to music with a high level of improvisation – like blues or jazz – because it feels more ‘in the moment’ than, say, classical music with its elaborate arrangements. Again, the idea that anything can happen adds excitement. That’s not to say great composers and conductors and orchestras don’t thrill me to the core but the near-telepathy of impromptu music usually moves me more. And it doesn’t stop there …

Image result for george gershwin life is like jazz

My idea of a failed evening down the pub is when everybody just sits around cracking jokes or recounting well-rehearsed personal anecdotes. They have their place, of course, but there’s much more chance of genuine interaction when the conversation is improvised. And then there’s that ‘frisson of danger’ …

But it may be that old jokes and anecdotes are the safer option. There are sharp polarisations in our cultural and political life which can put all kinds of dampers on free speech. Fixed positions can easily become flashpoints. Civilised discussion can degenerate into a slanging match before you know it.

I’ve just read something by the Irish poet WB Yeats which struck a chord:

A nation in crisis becomes almost like a single mind, or rather like those minds I have described that become channels for parallel streams of thought, each stream taking the colour of the mind it flows through. These streams are not set moving, as I think, through conversation or publication, but through ‘telepathic contact’ at some depth below normal consciousness; and it is only years afterwards, when future events have shown the theme’s importance, that we discover that they are different expressions of a common theme.

He was writing in 1922, just after the partition of Ireland which followed years of conflict. The Troubles in Northern Ireland exploded in 1968, continuing for 30 years until the common membership of Ireland and the UK in the European Union facilitated the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. I sincerely hope that the UK’s proposed withdrawal from the EU does nothing to damage that hard-won peace settlement. But is there a Warning in his words?

The words Yeats uses are old-fashioned and poetic but am I alone in thinking he could be describing the internet and the platform algorithms which may be polarising opinion not just in Britain but across the world … each stream taking the colour of the mind it flows through? And with worrying phenomena such as confirmation bias and trolling, are we already beyond real conversation and genuine publication? When you add in the shrinking of conventional mainstream media, cross-border hacking and online censorship within several nation states … well, at the very least, the high hopes for enhanced human communication which those enthusiastic internet pioneers once held might now seem a shade or three too optimistic.

And yet … what the hell archie – to use one of my mum’s favourite phrases … I’m hopeful. There’s our instinctive social grace evolved over aeons that enables us to seize on moments, opportunities, connections. There’s my granddaughter turning everything (and everyone) into an imaginary game where she is in control and from which she can learn about the world in her own good time. There’s my son, a talented amateur drummer, facing a big audience with a new band whose musical arrangements he hardly knew but using his natural ability and some serious listening to see him – and them – through in some style.

And while I’m on serious – really serious – there’s a huge demonstration in the US with no other plan but to stand side by side in the fervent hope of bringing about change.

To use another phrase my mum liked, it’s not beyond the wit of man to make things better. When the play goes wrong and everybody forgets their lines, there’s only one way to rescue the performance.

Improvise your way to a better place. Learn to seize the time. It’s never too late.

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Are We There Yet? (8/8)

I could have told a simpler tale, without this pressing
N eed to string my snaky sentences around
E ach letter of a given word. But there again,
F itting phrase to form is half a poem’s fun.
F or pity’s sake, you cry, don’t leave us high and dry …
I s Blushing Bob to languish while Yellowbaby basks?
C ut to the chuffing chase, then, Bob’s turned whistle-blower!
I n a flash the fuzz tracked down those Lucky Charms,
E ach step a little closer to Yellowbelly’s hide.
N ow he’s in jug while Bob’s cheeks blush – though now, of course, with pride.
T he End.  PS It’s not over till the jelly baby springs!  (Oh yes it is! Ed.)


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Image: Night Owls

Stimulus: WordPress Daily Prompt Inefficient

Looking Up (7/8)

Part 7 and the thick plottens …

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S een online, Bob knows that the ebay bracelet
W as identical to the one stolen and posted as Missing.
A ll the Lucky Charms are there, present and correct.
L ong hours spent searching likely sites has paid off.
L ooking up from screen-glare with relief, he sees movement.
O utside the window-bars of his cell a bird swoops and soars,
W ingbeats flashing a secret semaphore to freedom.

Continued on Are We There Yet?

Ha, turns out that cyberspace may not be the complete waste of time our mummies and daddies keep telling us it is.

What do they know? The kids are alright …


Image: Pinterest

Stimulus: WordPress Daily Prompt Swallow

Ya lose some, ya winsome! (6/8)

And I’m losing count! Is this Part 6 of my jelly-baby tale? Anyway, to read the whole thing just click “Ain’t Me, Guv’!” and follow the links.

F ortune tellers always tell ya
A ll the luck will chase the Charm.
C an this be a con they sell ya
E very time they read ya palm?
L uck now runs the other way.
E ctoplasm flows
S traight to Bob in jug – hooray!
S earched online, he knows.

Continued in Looking Up

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Image: Pinterest

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Sitting on the Fence (5/8)

After Swings And Roundabouts, would you like to go on the slide? And on that pathetic note, welcome to Part 5 of this curious little drama:

F rance, La Belle, c’est magnifique si vous avez des euros.
O ut of ready cash, an expat bon viveur just suffers!
R ealising capital is Yellowbaby’s answer.
E bay is his port of call, the desperate little chancer!
I t’s easy to upload a photo, showing off his Charms
G osh, not those, you naughty things – think WordPress Smut Alarms!
N o, keep it clean, remember Bob whose innocence this harms.

Continued in Ya Lose Some, Ya Winsome!


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Stimulus: WordPress Daily Prompt Foreign

Swings And Roundabouts or What Goes Around Comes Around (4/8)

In the words of that immortal sage, sacred keeper of all questions and answers, Magnus Magnussen:

I’ve started, so I’ll finish.

That’s pretty well how I feel about this odd little story I’ve begun.

It started with “Ain’t Me, Guv’!”, continued with Doing The Right Thing and was updated with Inside … which precedes this one. Apart from the storyline they have two things in common – all are acrostic poems generated by consecutive WordPress Daily Prompts. Today’s word is Talisman.

T heft of bling, the big-time sting they fling at Blushing Bob
A long with shame that shoulda came to brazen Yellow Gob.
L ucky Charms – the purloined piece – in silver, jewels and gold.
I t weren’t so much the money as the fortune-hunt gone cold!
S o when a Missing poster hits the interweb, tout suite,
M any a fortune-hunter puts out feelers on the street.
A nd locked away, though learning skills, poor Bob finds laptop rapture –
N o time at all before he’s clocked those Charms that caused his capture.

Continued in Sitting on the Fence


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Image: Pinterest